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What about the small retailers?

Published: 18/02/2020 By Andrew Bailey

Working at Turpin Barker Armstrong I see many articles about the failure of the big high street names but what about the smaller retailers?

January 2020 has seen a significant increase in the number of enquiries I have received from the owners of small retail businesses and it comes as no surprise. However, their plight does not tend to hit the headlines compared to a big brand like Mothercare or Debenhams for example.

A typical scenario
It is terribly sad to deal with business owners that have committed their personal money, time and effort to try and build a successful retail business but have reached a stage where it is no longer viable. My meetings are often with exhausted and disappointed owners but I try to focus on the positive. Starting your own business is incredibly brave and beyond most people. In time to come they will reflect on what they have achieved but now is the right time to bring things to an end. A typical scenario is as follows:
- Christmas was okay or disappointing but nowhere near the level of turnover to keep us trading;
- Overheads have already been cut as far as possible and most employees have been let go;
- The directors are covering the jobs of these now redundant employees but not drawing any salary despite working long hours;
- The business entered into a long lease and rent and rates are crippling;
-  Foot fall has deteriorated and sales have continued to drop;
- Our only asset is stock and now many supplier accounts are stopped or are cash on delivery;
- It is taking its toll on my health and my personal life.  This last point is the key one for me.


When your business has such a negative influence on your personal life and relationships you must get help and seek advice.  


Strategy
Most of the clients I advise will be operating a small retail business which will have one or a handful of outlets, they will be laden with stock, the burden of a long term lease, employee wages needing to be paid, HMRC returns and payments due along with supplier payments and the need to continue to trade whilst they try and work out what to do. The business owner will know that long term it is not going to last so they are looking for a way to wind down the business in an orderly manner.

At Turpin Barker Armstrong we look at all the options whether that be via a sale of the business and assets without an insolvency process, re-financing or turnaround. This is often challenging because of the current market conditions and if a business is simply no longer viable or saleable as a solvent business then it is often quickly agreed that the doors need to be closed. The most common insolvency option to deal with this would be via a Creditors' Voluntary Liquidation.

Does the business and assets have a value?
It is useful to get an independent and professional valuation to establish if the business and assets along with the lease has any value and whether there are third parties that could have an interest in purchasing the business, assets and lease.

The lease is one of main items to deal with and it is important to establish if there are any personal guarantees attached to the lease. Disposing of the lease through any sale can be difficult but we have successfully assigned leases to other parties in order to obtain some value for creditors.

The likelihood is that the remaining assets will consist of stock and racking and other items within the premises. Again, the disposal of the items can be done in an orderly manner whether through a closing down sale or the sale of items by the agents. Creditors sometimes claim retention of title over unpaid stock, so this is managed as part of the process.

Can you trade whilst you look at your options?
The answer is yes but business owners must be careful. It is important not to worsen the position of creditors and this can be achieved by taking sensible steps such as by ensuring that no more credit is incurred and by paying for any supplies by cash on delivery. Speaking to stakeholders such as employees and the landlord are helpful in making sure the process is dealt with transparently.

Should business owners take advice?
Again, the answer is yes!  Getting advice is vital and provides comfort while they look at the options. It is also important to keep a record of any decisions being made and justifying the decisions by following the advice received. An insolvency practitioner can work alongside the business owners as they explore the different options and establish the best route forward. Getting early advice does help so that you have a sounding board throughout.

There will be many small retail business owners out there that can relate to the challenges referred to above and I regularly see the toll that it takes as they battle the various obstacles they face on a day to day basis. We all hope for a turnaround in fortune for the high street but most commentators agree that there is no quick fix and we shall continue to see more failures from high street businesses large and small.


Andrew Bailey MABRP MIPA -  Partner
07464 675571  /  020 8661 7878
andrew.bailey@turpinba.co.uk